2012 01 22

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Contents

Feature Cast for 2012-01-22

(00:00:17.475) Intro

(00:04:38.636) Hacker Word of the Week: fool

(00:05:58.756) How This Hacker Sees the World

  • Exposing and explaining assumptions are hard
    • By their very nature, they undergird perception
      • Often themselves being imperceptible
    • You cannot see your own nose for much the same reason
    • Being present so consistently, your mind edits it out unless you take pains
      • To cross your eyes a bit and try to examine it
    • This cognitive phenomenon is called adaptation and is easy to demonstrate
    • Turn on a radio and tune it between stations or flip on a white noise generator
    • Most people will eventually stop hearing the noise or at least won't notice as much
    • If I recall it correctly, adaptation leads to a neat trick
      • That you can play with video of falling water
    • If you watch the motion of water long enough for your mind to adapt
      • Then stop the image, for a brief second it will seem like the water is flowing in reverse
    • Unlike these outward sensations where tricks can be employed
      • To uncover mental short circuiting that diminishes perception
    • Digging downwards from opinions and perspectives to the underlying perceptions
      • Is not as easy as exercising some mental sleight of hand
    • Interacting with others is the only means I can think of
      • That brings assumptions into focus in a clear and constructive way
    • For myself, the genesis of this monologue has been the persistent questions
      • Asked by a listener and reader, goblin
        • Who clearly doesn't share the assumptions
        • I hold as a technology enthusiast and a hacker
    • I have increasingly been thinking that enumerating close held assumptions
      • And re-evaluating them would be a useful exercise for keeping an open and limber mind
    • Doing so is clearly easiest with consciously embraced choices
      • Like the thought process I openly shared around my decision to move back to Linux
    • Even with an easier to focus experience like that, one that is more volitional
      • Undoubtedly many otherwise invisible, subtler or longer held assumptions
        • Informed the decision and the actions I undertook after committing to it
    • In conversation with those who respectfully and calmly disagree
      • With the assertions and actions that arises from my own assumptions
        • Exactly what those are comes a bit more into focus
    • I will share some examples that have arisen from specific disagreements
    • None of these are meant to be critical in anyway
      • Even though I may compare and contrast my own views and assumptions to those held by others
    • The juxtaposition is the most useful way I can think of
      • To bring my otherwise invisible assumptions somewhat into frame
        • And to explain them hopefully in a more concrete and understandable way
  • Hackable systems are everywhere
    • Thinking about the specific situations, even social ones
      • As a complex of interlocking, logical rules is not uncommon for hackers
    • Except where constrained by some physical architecture
      • Most hackers see these as opportunities to explore and experiment
    • Only curiosity and creativity are required to make the attempt
    • Curiosity encourages looking at what is often taken for granted in a new light
      • As something begging more research, thought and investigation
    • Think about how many everyday scenarios through which you move
      • Without giving much thought, assuming things have always been this way
    • Giving in to your curious nature leads to asking, why is this so?
    • Are the rules and particulars there for some reason or are they arbitrary?
    • Using creative thinking unlocks alternatives, seeing how something mundane
      • Might be re-imagined if the underlying rules are not fixed in stone
    • A few experiences have brought this systems approach to mind for me recently
      • In particular how it is most commonly expressed in social situations
    • Many hackers are creatures of habit, I know I sure am
    • I think this is an instance of creating systems to free up mental cycles
    • With well established habits that do not require conscious thought
      • There is more time and focus to dedicate to far more interesting questions
    • The root of these habits can be very thoughtful
      • Based on well reasoned research and experimentation to find an efficient set of practices
      • Or it could be more arbitrary, a random choice such as the first one that happened along
    • What surprises me is how inflexible this framing can make some hackers
    • Variation from routine definitely makes me uncomfortable, unless I have time to prepare for it
    • I've spoken about the sense of dislocation that I feel when traveling
    • I think it has a basis at least in part in this particular mindset
    • As such, as I've traveled more, I've tried to embrace that dislocation
      • Welcoming how it begs re-thinking assumptions and comforts I take for granted
    • By contrast, I have colleagues that very steadfastly cling to their established habits
    • As a technologist at a DC based thinktank, I often have to attend meetings and events in a suit
    • Prior to this job, I avoided anything that required me to wear more than my standard uniform
    • Like many other people I've known in the field of technology
      • That was blue jeans and a tee shirt of some kind, either from a conference
        • Or from a collection of obscure and humorous designs like ThinkGeek or woot
    • I've shared my experience in adjusting to the requirements of my new career
    • One of the last times I was at an event hosted by a federal agency
      • The topic of why we have to wear suits came up
    • My view is that while doing so is pretty much an arbitrary historical accident
      • The cost of arguing to change it or get an exception is a waste of effort
    • Spending that energy on the topics of the event is a far more fruitful endeavor
    • A colleague from a large, commercial software firm simply didn't agree
    • She kept insisting that the need to wear a suit is illogical, it has nothing to do
      • With the actual qualifications of the participants or the merit of their contributions
    • I will agree that she is not wrong but with something so deeply embedded in a particular culture
      • In this instance a large federal agency and its expectations around public events
        • You could waste a good deal of time that would be better spent
        • Researching, preparing and refining the topics and knowledge you plan to bring to the event
    • In discussing this experience with another friend of mine
      • One more open minded to wardrobes less commonly associated with hackers
        • He pointed out that both the typical programmer uniform and a suit are equally arbitrary
    • While the social requirements of a situation are theoretically hackable
      • That has to be coupled with the cost to do so, the likelihood of success
        • And the knock on consequences of even making the attempt
    • The example I shared here is a bit trivial but highlights a few points
    • Just the realization that something is a system doesn't make it plausible to alter it
    • Focusing on external targets for this sort of re-engineering often obscures
      • That we often carry along any number of systems of habits
        • That are may be just as arbitrary and perhaps easier to change
    • One of the bigger recent examples is pretty well framed by a post I mentioned by Clay Johnson
      • Where he points out that not only are Congress critters commonly technology illiterate
        • But also many technologists are policy illiterate
    • One view is not inherently more legitimate than the other
    • Understanding that there are multiple systems resulting in a debate
      • Begs that the focus of thought and reflection be broadened
        • Not in the least to make sure that one party is unconsciously disrespecting the other
    • Trying to be more open minded, to see the implicit habits and grooves in our own thoughts and actions
      • Is time better spent to avoid talking past someone with a distinct, different background
        • Than insisting in the name of hacking a system that ours is intrinsically a better system
  • Free sharing doesn't mean without value
    • My persuasive arguments about issues in the context of copyright
      • Are very heavily laden with many assumptions
    • I feel that cultural creation is not only enhanced by sharing
      • But in many ways vitally depends on that act of transmission and joint reflection
    • There is certainly some value in creating solely for ourselves
    • The act of bring an idea into tangible existence as a melody, story or image
      • Crystallizes thoughts and feelings in an immediate and powerful way
    • Holding those creations exclusively for ourselves is limiting
      • At least in terms of personal growth, in inviting comment and new experience offered by others
    • A great deal of art only really flowers when another viewer, reader or listener
      • Meshes the ideas and questions posed by the creator with their own perspectives
    • Some schools of thought stress this more than others
      • Like many threads in the modern school of visual art
        • Where objective representation is explicitly rejected
        • In favor of impressions, puzzles and other approaches that explicitly invite the viewer in
    • Many, many thinkers recently have also argued that each creator
      • Borrows heavily from the vocabularies expressed by the creators they in turn enjoy and admire
    • In terms of conversing and engaging with each other
      • Cultural works become signposts and symbols, a shared shorthand
        • That make it easier to recognize each other and efficiently invoke and transmit ideas
    • Think for a moment of the number of times in the past week
      • That you referred to a passage from a book, some snippet of music
        • A joke from a comic either traditional or on the web
        • Or some particular scene from a beloved movie or television show
    • I contend that the act of sharing, of publishing, of putting works out there
      • Is key to generating this social currency around them
    • Freedom in explicit models of unrestricted sharing like free software or free culture
      • Aligns with the value generated by the normal and natural diffusion of works
    • I, for one, do not start with an assumption that all works should be shared without restriction
    • I am merely trying to suggest that moving towards easier and hence more sharing
      • Correlates to an increase in potential culture value
    • The creator should reserve the right to choose how to release their work
    • If in making a more liberal choice for my own works I expect other to respect that license
      • I in turn have to respect the wishes of how others want their creations shared
    • I may try to persuade them that less restrictions will produce more benefit
      • But with very, very few exceptions I personally won't cross the line they lay down
        • Violating their intentions
    • The handful of times I have violated someone else's copyright
      • I don't feel I was acting as a pirate, by the definition I will provide
    • I did so because I felt I had no other way to enjoy the work
      • For example that it was not available in a format I could enjoy with my technology choices
    • In every single instance I have put down cold, hard cash in some other way to benefited the creator
      • Such as buying the work in a later released format I could enjoy
    • The challenge in embracing greater freedom for audiences in turn to share and re-use works
      • Is how to express that value back to the author
      • In a way that supports the sustained effort and expense a work may require
      • And that encourages the original creator to continue to produce valuable works
    • I try to dedicate a portion of my blogging, podcasting and public speaking
      • To promoting experiments that demonstrate effective non-traditional ways
        • To ensure an artist is supported and encouraged
        • While also embracing the considerable benefit to be found in sharing
          • Whether that is in a more conservative fashion or much more generously
    • When talking about DRM or file sharing in the early days of the podcast
      • I would often qualify that I do not believe that piracy is ethical
    • Piracy could be characterized as a form of sharing
      • But I do not believe that all sharing is piracy
    • I would agree that a pirate is someone who enjoys a work, regardless of its license
      • Without sparing much if any thought for the inherent value it represents
        • In terms of the effort and costs associated with making the work and sharing it
    • To make things a but more complicated, I want to re-visit the couple of times
      • That I have knowingly and willingly violated someone else's copyright
    • While I may be unusual, and in my view not a pirate, for taking pains to support the original creator
      • The act of illicitly acquiring and enjoying a work is a strong signal
    • I think that even while true pirates rob a creator of direct remuneration
      • By paying attention to where they are thickest, an artist can gain a sense
        • Of opportunities of which they may not be taking full advantage
    • This is not to suggest that acting on such signals is easy or cheap
      • But rather to say that I doubt even inveterate pirates act in a purely random fashion
    • The hacker in me sees this as a system to observe and understand as well as possible
      • Before drawing the sort of deep judgements about the motives and damage of piracy
        • To which I think many in the traditional entertainment industry rush
    • Maybe my long, long experience of free software and open source
      • Softens the view I take on sharing and exchanging works that arise from non-monetary motivations
  • I've only dug into a couple of assumptions
    • As a mature human with a rich social graph and many civic and community facing outlets
      • There are undoubtedly many more
    • Quite a few are just as rooted as these two in my experiences and self identification as a hacker
    • I have a couple of other recent experiences that have helped
      • To bring these normally invisible influences on my thoughts and actions into conscious view
    • Whether I develop a new, longer running series of segments
      • I will definitely return at least once or twice more to this topic
        • Of how this hacker sees the world
    • If you have specific questions or experiences
      • I hope you understand now how by sharing them
        • You can help me, and help others by extensions, better understand these assumptions
    • As always, you can send me your thoughts at feedback at the command line dot net

(00:29:26.128) Outro

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